Invest in People. Not Employees.
This time of year brings eggnog, ugly Christmas sweaters in the office and company holiday parties. It also brings reflection on the past year and the opportunity to look ahead to the next -- to evaluate company goals, align the team, and determine where to prioritize budget. Maybe it’s just the holiday spirit, but there seems to be an increasingly frequent theme that also arises this time of year: engaging employees. The advice generally follows the same arc: treat your employees well, give them perks and benefits, be transparent and open with them and invest in them in a myriad of different ways. In return, your employees will be more engaged, leading to increased productivity, improved job satisfaction and reduced turnover.
None of this is wrong, of course.
But the current advice surrounding how to engage employees complicates things. It makes it feel like there is some complex formula that goes into it - as if employees are some other life form that we can’t understand. There is nothing where this is more noticeable than in the conversations surrounding Millennials -- stereotypes prevail and most critiques lack actionable insights.
What the advice seems to miss is the understanding that Millennials, and all employees for that matter, are simply human beings. They are people that have desires and needs beyond just being an ‘employee’. A job is simply part of the human experience, and a company’s role in this is to provide opportunities for people to thrive. That will never happen if we don’t start thinking of employees as more than numbers on a spreadsheet or an otherworldly life form needing to be ‘engaged’.
It seems like such simple advice. Yet it’s surprising how many people I come across that get this wrong. By thinking of employees as human beings, it’s possible to break out of the traditional mold of ping pong tables and happy hours and provide what people actually want: purpose, meaning, and significance, both inside and outside the workplace.
When we start thinking about employees as people, we see more than just the job description. We realize that our colleagues are sisters and fathers, athletes or foodies. We get to know them on a personal level - what do they care about? What are they struggling with? What makes them happy? This isn’t complex - it doesn't require a 6 step process, or knowing ‘the 9 most powerful ways to engage employees’. It simply means having a conversation, asking questions, and appreciating what’s below the surface. It takes an understanding that we all have a desire to be a part of something bigger — to contribute to the world in more powerful ways and leave it a better place than when we came into it. In the workplace, we have the opportunity to fulfill that desire for our people and become a significant force for good in the world. Thinking of our employees as people is a start.